The Endless To-Do List in the Mind
- By Nirmala aka Daniel Erway
- Published 07/8/2009
The mind has a tendency to label everything as bad or a problem. If we wake up stiff in the morning, the mind calls that bad and then worries about getting older. If we find out we are being let go at our job, the mind immediately assumes the worst and again worries about the future. Even if something good happens, the mind then sees the possible downside or worries about losing what it has just gained.
The mind sees its job as rejecting the now in order to bring about a better future. Its logic is that if we are happy now, then we won’t do anything to make things better. So, we need to find out what is wrong with now so that we can figure out what to do to fix or improve it. This keeps the mind very busy and leaves us with an ongoing sense of incompleteness and lack. There is always something in the now that can be labeled as bad, and then there is more to figure out and do something about. As a result, we have an ever-expanding “to-do” list in our minds. With this tendency to find something wrong with the mind’s picture of the now, we are constantly creating more to do. We may feel the need to improve our diet, our appearance, our finances, our health, our relationships, our career, and even more immediately, we may feel the need to change how we feel emotionally or physically whenever a strong feeling or sensation occurs.
Even spiritually, we continue this tendency to find fault with our present moment experience and then try to figure out what to do about it. We are not aware or awake enough. We are too judgmental. We have not experienced the deepest truth yet. And all of that just adds to our spiritual “to-do” list. Spiritual teachings are mostly descriptions of what is already true about our deepest nature, and yet spiritual seekers want to turn them into prescriptions for what they can do to achieve a deeper, better reality. We often aren’t looking for the truth as much as we want a better and more spiritual “to-do” list. Even if we are told that awareness is all there is, and life is already loving and perfect, we immediately want a list of steps to take so that we will feel that way more often in the future.
There is a simple question to ask that can short circuit this process at its beginning: Is this moment really so bad? Is there really anything present right now that is a problem? What if stiffness in the morning is just a particular sensation and not a bad sensation? What if it is actually okay to feel stiffness? And we can ask the same question about anything we are experiencing. Is sadness a bad sensation? Is confusion a bad sensation? Is the lack of money causing us harm in this very moment? Is the loss of a job or a relationship actually causing us harm in this very moment? It turns out that while everything affects awareness, nothing actually harms awareness. All of the effects are temporary. And so there is never anything in the present moment that is actually bad or causing harm to awareness itself.
This kind of questioning does the opposite of adding to our “to-do” list. Instead, it can reduce the sense of needing to do something about what is happening right now. Even if there are still things to do in a practical sense, questioning our mind’s conclusions can put the actual need to do something in perspective and reduce the sense of overwhelm created by the endless litany of problems the mind can imagine, and the ever growing list of things we think we need to do about those problems.
And more importantly, inquiring into the truth of this very moment can put us in touch with the beauty and wonder that is always present in this mystery called life. Not only is there really nothing bad in the here and now, but there is a limitless amount of profoundly rich depth and fullness to be found in the present moment. Everything that really matters, such as peace, joy, satisfaction, connectedness, and love is found in the here and now, and only in the here and now. There is nothing we need to do to experience this fullness and wonder, except to question the conclusion that it is not here already, and then look for ourselves to see if it is here. Is there any peace present right now? Is there any love at all in this very moment? What is that peace like? What is the nature of the love that is here now? Asking these kinds of questions is all it takes to get in touch with the amazing richness of the present moment. And there is nothing we need “to do” about it.
Nirmala is a nondual spiritual teacher in the Advaita tradition of nondual spiritual teachings. He offers satsang gatherings or “gatherings for the truth” across the United States and around the world as a celebration of the possibility, in every moment, of recognizing the limitless love that is our true nature. He is the author of several books about nonduality, and true spiritual awakening, including Nothing Personal: Seeing Beyond the Illusion of a Separate Self, and a collection of spiritual poetry entitled Gifts with No Giver. More information about mentoring sessions, free satsang videos and downloads of several of his free ebooks are available on his website at http://www.endless-satsang.com.